Training Tips from the World’s Greatest Athlete
Two-time gold medalist Ashton Eaton on the importance of focus, running, and coffee.
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The decathlon requires an athlete to compete in ten track and field events over the course of two days, testing their strength, speed, agility, and dexterity. Because of this, the Olympic gold medal-winning decathlete is usually given the title of World's Greatest Athlete. Ashton Eaton has twice won the gold medal in the event and currently holds the sport's world record. We recently sent him the Outside Questionnaire to glean tips about training.
What time do you go to bed? Around 10 p.m.
What time do you wake up? My wake-up time is 7 a.m., but I will usually wake up before that, around 6:30 a.m. I don’t usually set an alarm.
What’s the first important habit of your day? Coffee! My morning coffee is important. I’m not sure if it is the coffee itself or just the ritual of the process every day.
What do you eat for breakfast? My mornings are typically filled with a lot of fruits, Greek yogurt, eggs, and nuts.
What time of day do you prefer to work out? Mid-morning—10 a.m. to 12 p.m., typically. I have the most energy at that time of day and it fits in well between breakfast and lunch.
What’s the maximum and minimum number of hours you train in a day? Max is three hours, minimum is 45 minutes.
Do you keep a workout journal? Yes, and my coach does as well. It is great to be able to look back and see what you did before competitions that went well and try to figure out what to tweak and what to keep the same.
What’s your favorite exercise? It may seem strange, but I have always liked to run. It gives me such a feeling of freedom. But in the decathlon, I basically love whatever event I am developing and making breakthroughs in. That’s what I have always loved about the event: you can always improve somewhere.
What do you do on your recovery days? I have many recovery days. They are as important as training, sometimes even more so. I will get massages and stretch, and I will try and do something moderately active, like going for a walk or an easy hike or a swim if the weather is suitable.
What’s the most recent habit you’ve tried to adopt? Relentless focus. This is something that I have picked up from my wife [Olympic heptathlete and pentathlete Briane Theisen-Eaton]. She is so motivated and focused on her goals. I am blown away by how relentless she is.
What change in your approach to training has had the biggest impact on your success? Just taking an overall professional approach. My coach Harry Marra has instilled that into our training process. Everything we do has a reason and a purpose, everything is well thought out. We always remain flexible in our approach, but we don’t ever do anything haphazardly. We always have a reason for what we do in training.
What change in your approach to eating has had the biggest impact on your success? I truly believe my eating habits—heavily influenced by my wife—have made a big difference in my performance. I recover quicker from training, I have more energy, I sleep better. This is all a result of better overall health from improved eating habits.
Which training habits do you most overuse? None! I honestly think I weigh on the side of caution and do less rather than more. I sometimes see athletes overtraining some technical aspects of their training. For example, if an athlete is struggling to make technical changes in the discus, they will do more of it and try to force a breakthrough, where often the correct choice would be to take a step back from training, and take a break and approach it at another time when you have a fresh perspective.
What do you dislike most about training? I’m a competitor, and I like to compete. In our sport, we can spend months and months training without a competition, so for me I guess the biggest dislike about training can be the long durations without getting to compete.
What do you most value in a training partner? Reliability. Not just in their performance—that is actually way less important—but reliability in effort. I need training partners who always show up when they are supposed to and who always put in the effort they should.
What is your idea of a perfect training day? A struggle, a breakthrough, and something gained mentally.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I have a desire to understand everything about something before I act and sometimes it takes a long time for me to take action.
What will you miss most when you stop competing? I will miss my competitors and friends. I will miss my event. Whatever I do in life going forward will be heavily, heavily influenced by the experiences I’ve had while doing the decathlon.
What do you consider the most overrated training advice? I would label any advice that would have you do more of something as overrated.
What is your most treasured possession? My watch.
What keeps you up night? Directionless-ness.
Which athlete are you most inspired by? Julius Yego.
What do you most value in a competitor? Love of sport.
What do you most value in a coach? Consistency and energy. My coach recently turned 69, but he has energy of a teenager. He is as dedicated as I am and he is very thoughtful in all that he does. He takes a very professional approach to his coaching. This is contagious, and rubs off on [my wife] Brianne and I.
What habit would you most like to break? Compulsive cleaning.
What is your favorite thing about your body? Its ability to adapt.
What do you dislike most about your body? The grey hair I’m getting.
What’s your biggest goal? Still deciding.
What are you doing an hour before a race? I generally start my warm-up an hour before my first race. Prior to that, I will be relaxing, getting massages, discussing strategy with my coach. But mostly just relaxing with my team and keeping things light. I don’t tend to obsess or get ultra-focused until right before the competition.
What song would you listen to to get pumped up if you could only have one song? “The Battle” from the Gladiator soundtrack.
What is the first thing you think about when you finish an event? “What have I done?”
What is your greatest fear? Dying.
Which athlete do you most admire? David Rudisha.
What is your favorite guilty pleasure? Video games.
What’s your worst nightmare? Confinement and limitation.
What is most important to you right now? Deciding what to do next.
What or who is the greatest love of your life? My wife, Brianne.
When are you happiest? While traveling.
Which talent would you most like to have? To learn new languages with ease.
Do you have a motto? Endeavor Always.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? My world record.